In-flight features have come a long way since the first commercial airlines took to the skies. While early commercial flights may have been able to serve food and drinks—and maybe even screen an in-flight movie—today, passengers can enjoy many more services.
Individual seatback televisions let customers enjoy the programs, movies, and in-flight entertainment that interests them most, while some flights even offer tablet rentals. But, for many flyers, in-flight Wi-Fi is the feature that they’re most excited about.
Read on to find out how new travel technology is helping Wi-Fi become more available on flights, and what flyers and travel professionals can expect from in-flight connectivity in the future.
How In-Flight Wi-Fi Works
In-flight Wi-Fi first appeared on flights in 2008. Customers could pay a premium to use the interenet to send emails and browse the web—but most flights didn’t allow video streaming due to bandwidth restrictions.
To understand why flights sometimes restricted internet access (which some of them still do), it’s important to understand how in-flight Wi-Fi works. First, a plane is fitted with a specialized antenna that can transmit and receive wireless internet signals. It then transmits signals to towers on the ground that point their signals upwards—instead of down like regular cell phone towers. During the flight, the plane switches from one signal to another as it passes over various towers until it completes its journey.
As you might expect from this method, the bandwidth available to passengers is low, especially compared to what they’re used to at home. A plane might only get between 3.1 Mbps to 9.8 Mbps (Megabits per second), which will then be shared by all passengers. As a result, users usually experience connections closer to 1-2 Mbps. By comparison, the average internet speed in the U.S. is approximately 7.03 Mbps, and 5.67 Mbps in Canada.
New Developments in Travel Technology and What that Means for Wi-Fi
Because passengers are used to speedy internet connections at home, in-flight connectivity can sometimes feel too slow, or too unreliable to customers. They might feel frustrated by high prices for a service that they don’t feel is entirely worth the cost. In fact, some flights offering Wi-Fi have as little as 7% of flyers who actually use it.
To help increase in-flight Wi-Fi speeds, companies like Gogo, Row 44, Panasonic, and ViaSat are turning to new technology. These companies are now using satellite technology to provide internet access to passengers and crew on-board planes. These satellites can provide a much bigger signal to planes. And, while that signal needs to be shared among many planes at once, it can still offer its users the kind of fast and reliable connectivity they’re used to.
The Future of In-Flight Wi-Fi
Of course, satellite technology is expensive and so many travel and tourism professionals are left wondering if using this new technology will decrease the price of in-flight internet at all. But, as airline flight attendants know, not all flyers are put off by high in-flight internet prices.
For example, customers on business trips, have their expenses reimbursed by their company and aren’t as concerned about in-flight internet costs as vacationers might be. As a result, some in-flight internet companies are catering to that market specifically, and are actually raising prices instead of lowering them.
Other providers, on the other hand, are beginning to offer internet as a complimentary service to help set themselves apart from their competition. Whether or not in-flight internet prices go down, one thing is certain: more and more flights will be providing in-flight internet access very soon.
Do you know of any other new travel technologies that might change in-flight entertainment?